swiss pines november, 2018

I always read about Swiss Pines and the magical gardens before I moved to Chester County but I never realized where it was located until I lived out here a while.

Where it is— where it lies in ruins is along Charlestown Road.

I am really bummed out that I will probably never ever get to see the gardens and that they will probably just continue to rot into oblivion.

I actually wrote about Swiss Pines before. Why it has always interested me was because of the wonderful Japanese woodland gardens.

My personal gardens have so much of a shade garden and woodland garden component to it here in Chester County, that Swiss Pines is exactly the kind of place I would love to explore to learn what they did. Gardens like this are always inspiring.

But I am losing hope that the gardens will ever be restored and re-opened. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. My fear is someday it will all just be bulldozed under for more development.

Today when we drove by, the bamboo seemed larger and more oppressive than usual. (It can get really tricky on Charlestown Road in front of those gardens especially as we go in the winter because something is always falling into the road.)

Even in their state of ruin, the gardens of Swiss Pines still beckon. When you drive by you catch little glimpses of what lies on the other side of the bamboo. Remnants of paths and little footbridges, Japanese garden ornaments. Way overgrown plantings.

I think Swiss Pines is a treasure. Right now, it remains a tantalizing mystery disappearing into the overgrowth.

enjoying the november garden

IMG_0471

One of our big maples out back 

The November garden is spectacular in her own right.  The bright blooms of summer might be gone, but the fiery glory of late autumn waiting for winter is a magnificent display all on her own.

Years ago when I discovered the late Suzy Bales’ books Down to Earth Gardener and The Garden in Winter it was like having a gardening epiphany.  I had been gardening my whole life and she just inspired me to see things differently.  Like many gardeners, for years and years I gardened for two seasons: spring and summer.  She opened my eyes to four season beauty.  I have learned over the past few years the sheer beauty of each season if you let it happen.

IMG_0461 - Copy

A flower on my Sochi Tea Plant!

This year I added Jenny Rose Carey’s book Glorious Shade to my garden library and she sort of picked up where Suzy Bales’ had left off because I was new to such serious shade gardening and woodland gardening in our current garden.  Through this book and one belonging to my late mother-in-law my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of the shade and woodland garden.  In these gardens, fall I think is one of their best seasons because you completely see the amazing range of fall colors getting ready to make way for the winter garden, which is different yet again.

In addition this year I discovered British gardener Monty Don when I realized through streaming services like BritBox I could get Gardener’s World, the long running and can I say amazing BBC gardening show.  I also acquired Monty’s Book Down To Earth Gardener recently.  Monty Don is a true inspiration to the home gardener and his show is the best I have ever seen.  It’s actual gardening and learning about plants and gardens and gardening, not just some DIY or HGTV hack show where people  blow in over a few days and create unrealistic outside gardening spaces with about as much charm as a McMansion wrapped in Tyvec.  Sorry not sorry but for all of the brilliant U.S. gardeners and gardens it blows my mind the U.S. television is unable or unwilling to produce a quality program along the lines of BBC’s Gardener’s World.

IMG_E0455

One of my little blue birds of happiness

This morning the first thing I saw when I looked out the window was blue birds.  Not just a pair, but at least six fluttering around and checking out the bird boxes! Last year we had two.  They have returned and bought others. We think it is last year’s mating pair and perhaps some grown chicks.

I am telling you there are few sights as happy as seeing blue birds flittering and fluttering around the back gardens.  They are shy and hard for me to capture in photographs, so the photo is small and grainy.

Also a happy discovery today was a flower newly opened on my Sochi Tea Plant (tea camellia) and that witch hazels I forgot were in a woodland bed on the edge of the woods were blooming!

IMG_0460

Common Witch Hazel H. virginiana. This is the variety the atringent witch hazel is made from.  This was purchased from Yellow Springs Farm in Chester Springs, PA

Witch hazels are a wonderful often overlooked shrub. The first person to introduce me to them as a wonderful native plant was Catherine Renzi who along with her husband Al  is the owner of Yellow Springs Nursery in Chester Springs PA.  (Al Renzi is the one who finally got me to try a Chicago Hardy fig this summer so we shall see how it over-winters!)

Witch Hazels like moist, well-drained somewhat acidic soil.  They grow in full sun to partial shade, but are an understory plant so I do not recommend full sun although people do grow it in full sun.

Witch Hazels also might like moist soil and flood plains but they don’t like heavy, wet soil.  Have a care on their mature heights and width.  Mine are in a spot that will require regular pruning on my part because I did not pay close enough attention to their mature dimensions, yet I do not wish to move them as they are really happy where they are. Prune before summer but after flowering.  Since these are blooming now, I could technically prune them any time after they are finished.

Gardener’s World has a great piece on witch hazels.  I am not sure if all cultivars are available outside the U.K. but it gives you an idea of variety available. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden has a great article about them on their website too. Fine Gardening is fond of witch hazels as well!  Catherine Renzi introduced me to them originally, but it was in fact Jenny Rose Carey who made me look at them again.  She talked about them at a spring garden lecture I attended and she has several varieties in her own gardens at Northview. I am really lucky to know some fine gardening folks!

I have several trees to plant yet this year, along with a few shrubs and ferns.  Chestnut and Burr Oak , Amish Walnut, baby umbrella magnolias, more witch hazel, dogwood shrub, native azaleas, and a couple of ferns.  And more leaf mulch to be shredded as well. I have planted all of my bulbs though!

I also have hydrangeas to prune.  Yes, you CAN prune hydrangeas and you SHOULD.  It just depends on your type of hydrangea and if blooms on new or old wood. It is one of the most often asked questions in my gardening group.  This link to Gardener’s World will help you, other tips from Gardener’s World, and the one I have used in the past— help from Fine Gardening Magazine.

Enjoy the photos at the bottom of this post.  The garden in November is so lovely. Afinal note is if you are a Chester County resident or live in close proximity to Chester County, one of my favorite growers, Applied Climatology is having their end of season clearence sale at the West Chester Growers Marke on Saturday morning, September 10th.  Check out their event listing on Facebook for more details.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

new garden toy is finally put to use!

So this past spring I was attending a garden lecture where Jenny Rose Carey was speaking about her book Glorious Shade (buy it!) and when speaking about her own garden she spoke about these leaf mulcher machines like the one you see above in the photograph.

Now I have seen how terrific shredded leaves as mulch are on large properties like Natural Lands’ Stoneleigh and in private gardens like Jenny Rose Carey’s Northview Gardens so I really wanted one of these leaf mulchers. My husband bought me the Worx one you see above as a birthday present.

I know, I know a lot of people have lawnmowers that do this, but lawnmowers are not a tool you allow me to use as it’s a thing I truly cannot do well in the garden and I am the first one to admit it. If you let me do the lawn I will kill it. My late father one time remarked when I “helped him” with the lawn it looked like aliens had invaded. Besides I don’t want to mulch leaves on the lawn I want to use the shredded leaf mulch on my garden beds and on the edges of my woods.

You either have to put bags underneath this to catch the leaves that you shred or a giant trug bag like I used.

My husband helped me with this because I had never used this before and helped me set it up too. Ours is electric powered.

I would advise wearing goggles why you do this because bits of leaves are flying everywhere and if anything blows back out of the machine and hit your eyes it could be really bad.

You also have to make sure there are no sticks in the leaves because that could cause problems with the shredder, or just as a dangerous projectile.

Shredded leaves are a light and fluffy mulch to spread on your garden beds and it’s so good for the soil. And it’s a great way to make use of the leaves you rake up and (again) it’s a great FREE way to enrich your soil! it’s kind of like garden recycling and you don’t have to drag the giant bags of leaves to the curb – you can use them!

let the fall gardening games begin!

Today is one of my most favorite days of the year. It’s my sister’s birthday and it’s also fall tree work day!

Treemendous Tree Care arrived right on time and our trees are getting their fall haircuts! I am also taking down a couple small saplings that didn’t make it, and trees that are interfering with the growth of more valuable trees. From our tree work I will get more mulch in the form of wood chips, and we will also get more firewood.

One of the things I can’t stress enough to homeowners and gardeners alike is the importance of routine tree work. When we moved in here there have been virtually no tree work in at least 50 years.

People do not realize how much better it is if you do routine tree work versus waiting for a crisis or an emergency. Yes, a good arborist does not come cheaply, but if your home is your castle and your most valuable asset, it’s a necessary thing. And Treemendous Tree Care considering their skill set and knowledge are very reasonably priced.

We tend to do tree work twice a year. We live partially in the woods. And taking good care of your trees is also responsible environmentally speaking.

Once my tree work is complete I will be starting on the final push of fall gardening and fall cleanup.

When the leaves start to fall I will shred them for mulch on my beds. In the meantime I am starting to do my fall trimming and my final fall planting. That will include some reforestation this year. I am planting some hardwood saplings deep in my woods for future generations to enjoy. Those trees are coming from Go Native Tree Farm in Lancaster, PA.

Yesterday I planted white currant bushes from Honeyberry USA. White currant bushes are hard to come by and I had planted them before and a few years ago someone who was helping me a little bit in the garden who didn’t know what they were cut them down as if they were weeds. Who you have on your property and and your gardens is a learning curve.

Sometimes even though someone is very nice they don’t have the knowledge base or depth of plant knowledge that you need. I now have a much better team assembled to help me with the things I can’t do myself.

And this morning my bulbs arrived from Brent and Becky’s in Virginia. I also bought some bulbs this year from P. Allen Smith. I get very excited when my bulbs arrive! I’m not so happy with my back after I plant all of them, but it’s so worth it in the spring when they pop up!

OK I am going back to supervise my tree work and lay my bulbs out for planting. Enjoy this beautiful fall day! It’s a little crisp but it’s lovely outside.

Also…try to be kind to one and other and pay something positive forward.

in the garden: planning ahead

Gardens in our area have been tested this spring and summer. Lots of rain, with hideous heat and humidity in between.

I learned a lot about what my garden can and cannot tolerate with this weather. I lost almost all of the 60-year-old garden phlox because of all the rain. A gorgeous Blue Baron azalea survived my township snow plow guys to have its roots rot in all of the rain, and just today I noticed due to rain and borers I have also lost a David Austin rose, and a Blue Boy azalea out back. Even some of the ferns I sourced this year are starting to rot from the rain.

I hate losing plants, but I have learned to look at it differently instead of taking it as a personal failure. This is the natural attrition of nature, and if you lose something it’s an opportunity to put it back or try something different.

Weather extremes are also an opportunity to learn. I planted hatch green chilies from seed this year. I have grown them in pots and grow bags. I wasn’t sure how they would do given they are something I associate with New Mexico which is a climate different from ours. However, as I have known people who have lived there, New Mexico is a study in weather extremes. So my hatch chilies have done surprisingly well, even if I probably should have started the seeds earlier.

But now that the summer is drawing to a close I have done things like schedule my fall tree work. As we are mostly in the woods there is always a lot of trimming and tree maintenance that needs to be done. We are getting to a place where I’m hoping to only have to do tree work once a year, but it just depends. We had trees that really were not pruned about 50 years.

If you want to know who is doing our tree work, look no further than Treemendous Tree Care. They guarantee their work, they have safe and knowledgeable crews, are actual arborists, and they have the bragging rights to champion tree climbers. Because of the positioning of our woods, we don’t have woods you can take trucks into, we need climbers. They are also neat and careful with my gardens. They actually appreciate and know what I have planted.

Tree pruning is something a homeowner has to budget for. It’s necessary for your tree health, and it also is preventative given the way a good old Chester County winter can go (queue the infamous 2014 ice storm.)

This fall I am not only having pruning done, I am culling the herd as it were. We have an overabundance of different kinds of wild cherries which have grown over the past five years. They are a softer wood, and the rain and heat has caused some of them to get blighted. As they are also growing in the path of more valuable trees, I am going to thin out some of these young trees. However in our woods, we will also be planting saplings from Go Native Tree Farm in Lancaster, PA. I believe in restoration planting of woods. And I want our woods to remain predominantly hardwoods.

The trees I have chosen as saplings to plant in my woods are Amish Walnut, Burr Oak and Chestnut Oak. I fell in love with the leaves of Chestnut Oaks this spring at Jenkins Arboretum, the Arboretum I belong too. I have always loved the acorns of the Burr Oak. The Amish Walnut is basically a native cross tree which has occurred up in Lancaster County and no one has really studied but it’s a great tree. My tree saplings will be delivered after I have my tree work done.

Go Native is an amazing resource and I encourage folks to check them out. They also carry native shrubs I like including witch hazel and flame azalea.

Later this fall, bulbs will arrive. They will go into the back garden beds this year. I ordered bluebells and lots of different cultivars of daffodils. I don’t plant tulips because the squirrels just dig them up and eat the bulbs.

The other thing I am going to plant this fall are peonies for the spring. They will arrive in tuber form, or bare root. I am ordering from A & D Nursery and Hollingsworth Nursery. The ones I have chosen are Baroness Schroeder, Green Lotus, Duchesse de Nemours, Moon of Nippon, Immaculee.

Except for Green Lotus they are all white peonies. Yes it’s a little Sissinghurst white garden, but they will give pretty pops in my spring garden next year. My mother loves an all white garden, but I like white as an accent versus being the color anchor.

I also have a couple of hydrangeas left to plant, some echinacea, gentians, day lilies, and a new deutizia cultivar. In between the rain I have started to pull out the plants that aren’t working, or as is the case with the majority of my garden phlox, the plants that have drowned this summer.

I planted a Chicago hardy fig, and a native azalea (From Yellow Springs Farm) and something I am very excited about. A seven sons tree – a Heptacodium. You can read about Heptacodium on the Morris Arboretum website. I purchased mine from Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market.

The garden is a constant evolution. Trial and error. A learning process. I still think gardening is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself. It’s connecting with nature on a basic level, and there is nothing better I think than digging in the dirt. It is truthfully therapeutic.

My garden has gotten big enough that I do need a little help every now and again now and I’m glad to have it. Another resource I have to share is Design Build Maintain, LLC. They do great landscaping and hardscaping work, and I use them for things that I need help with physically like all of the wood chips I put down in the back because it’s so shaded grass won’t grow. They will also be helping me down the road with a little grading back on the other side of our storage shed to help the rain water run off the driveway versus pool at the bottom of the driveway.

As I mentioned in another post, I have also had some folks from multiple organizations approach me for inclusion on garden tours in the future. After Fine Gardening Magazine featured some of my garden photos online this summer it seems people are truly interested. That is super flattering but I am not sure my garden is what they expect when they arrive.

My gardens are not formal. They are woodland gardens meet cottage gardens and they are layered. But I am not precisely David Culp’s Layered Gardens layered, either. I couldn’t be — his Brandywine Cottage gardens are a marvel and inspiring to me and my garden but his gardens are unique to his property. I still haven’t been there in person but I have studied his book extensively and love to check out his website . (Yes I have submitted a contact form a couple of times to ask if I could see the gardens in person, but haven’t heard back.)

My garden also isn’t fussy with fancy water features or a pool like I always see on garden tours. It is very individualistic and my personal vision. I have my inspirations as I have mentioned in the past, but my gardens are my own.

I also don’t label every single plant in the ground. That was a criticism of one group which toured the garden for a tour inclusion and I will admit that put me off. They also criticized how I hadn’t pruned a young Japanese maple. They didn’t seem to get that it did not have enough growth on it to be pruned at this point. When you prune something is very important to consider with younger plants in your garden. When you prune and how much you prune ensures whether it will survive and succeed or not.

I do not have a formal Arboretum, it’s my personal garden, and while I am happy to share, I will not plant a forest of plastic stakes for anyone. While I would be honored to be included on local garden tours, my garden is my garden. I want people to be able to just experience the nature around them. To be able to pause and enjoy it. To take a seat on a garden bench and just enjoy a garden.

A garden should be lived in. I love my garden for what it is and what it isn’t.

I can tell everyone what I have planted, can I remember every cultivar name? No, not at this point, and I’m fine with that. I want to inspire other gardeners, but in my opinion individuality is key in a garden and a lot of times people seem to forget that.

You put in the time, you put in the hours and you enjoy the flowers.

I will admit I am so over the rain. Everything is waterlogged. But when it finally stops it will be time to start the fall clean-up.

Thanks for stopping by.

goats!!!

It’s an open farm weekend at Yellow Springs Farm so we stopped by to visit goats 🐐 and pick up a couple of native plants for the garden.

Yellow Springs Farm is open until 4 PM today Saturday and tomorrow (Sunday, September 2 from 10 AM – 4 PM)